Being late fall their was a noticeable chill in the air at Mercedes Benz Stadium Sunday. The roof was closed but the chill was coming from the field as team owners Arthur Blank and Jerry Jones, owners of the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys stared coldly at each other.
The two popular team owners are at odds over a contract extension for league commissioner Roger Goodell. Jones has taken over the mantle of thorn in the side of the commissioner from the late Raiders owner Al Davis. Earlier in the week a six-game suspension of star Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was upheld by the league and Jones who has been at odds with Goodell threatened to sue six fellow owners over Goodell’s extension, one of which being Blank.
The two stared coldly at each other from a safe distance and unlike usual protocol where team owners greet and shake hands during pre-game activities; there was no such greeting on this late Sunday afternoon.
Outside of the growing feud between the owners the Falcons came into the contest loser of four out of their last five games, scoring almost half as many points a game as they did on average last season during that stretch, while for the season are averaging almost two touchdowns less per game as 2016.
The Cowboys on the other hand have been inconsistent to start the season but came into the game with three impressive wins averaging over 30 points while only giving up only 15 including an impressive win over one of the AFC’s top team, the Kansas City Chiefs.
The showdown of the NFC’s top two seeded teams in last year’s playoffs that many thought would happen in January. Was it worth the hype? Not really. Except for the drama between the two owners this turned out to be a one-sided affair.
On their second play on offense a ring was heard around the world – or at least the stadium. No, it wasn’t a bell or anything like that; instead it was Devonta Freeman’s head on a helmet-to-helmet collision. The sound was loud and rang out, as the crowd got quiet for a second. Freeman was off balance as he tried to go back to the huddle. He was stopped by a teammate and an official and promptly left the game with his second concussion of the season. Atlanta responded poorly as Ryan’s pass on the next play to Mohammed Sanu deflected off his hands into an awaiting Cowboy’s defender giving the ball to Dallas deep in Atlanta territory. Three plays later Dak Prescott capitalized on the turnover running 11 yards for a touchdown with 6:19 to go in the first quarter.
After that the game was pretty much over.
The Atlanta Falcons from this point forward played a lot like the team that went to the Super Bowl last season as they dominated both sides of the ball to win out 27-7.
Ryan got on the right track on the ensuing kickoff going 6-of-7 to set up a Matt Bryant field goal as time expired in the quarter. And that was all she wrote for the Cowboys.
Remember that romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally”? The sequel was written on the floor of the Benz. Entitled “When Dak Met Adrian”, this was a story of unwanted love and the consequences. Falcon defensive end Adrian Clayborn was relentless pursuit of the Cowboys quarterback. Unlike most romantic comedies where the couple gets together in the end, this one has a really happy beginning, middle and end (if you’re a Falcons fan). Clayborn set a franchise record sacking Prescott six times. He also ends up in the NFL record book as only the fourth player to record six sacks in a game.
I’m not sure if Elliott would have had much affected the outcome of the game. The Falcons were hell-bent to shut down the run. The two backs behind Elliott were Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden who are no slouches. The Cowboys ended up running the ball pretty well but thanks to a total of eight sacks by the Atlanta defense there were too many yards to make up to allow them to run the ball with any consistency. Averaging 5.1 yards a rush isn’t bad but when you’re making up an average of almost seven yards after every sack you have to look elsewhere. And Dallas did and it didn’t go very well.
Prescott was held to 176 yards passing and while he completed 67 percent of his passes they did little to help the team as they were held to under 300 yards of total offense on the day.
The Atlanta offense took advantage controlling the clock and scoring in each quarter for the first time in memory. The Falcons took the lead for good with 1:31 remaining in the half on a Tevin Coleman one-yard plunge. Coleman filled in well for the injured Freeman as he gained 82 yards on 20 carries. Terron Ward also filled in admirably adding 23 yards.
Just before the half ended the Cowboys looked as if they might pull even but Clayborn strip-sacked Prescott recovering the ball on the Falcon 44.
Atlanta took over six and a half minutes after taking the second half kickoff scoring on a three yard toss from Ryan to Justin Hardy making the score 17-7. Ryan went a perfect 7-of-7 in the drive as he had his most complete performance of the season. While his numbers weren’t gaudy, passing for only 215 yards, he completed 76 percent of his passes to seven different receivers and two scores.
The wind looked to be taken out of the Cowboys’ sails on the next drive as they drove deep into Atlanta territory only to have a Mike Nugent field goal attempt hit the goalposts.
Atlanta padded their lead in the fourth on a 1-yard scoring strike from Ryan to Austin Hooper and Bryant ended the scoring with 29-yard field goal on their next possession.
The Cowboys never were much of a threat with their only scoring coming off a turnover in Atlanta territory. With only one sustained drive that ended in a missed field goal the biggest drama on the field took place during the pre-game as the two team owner who are at odds provided the most excitement unless of course you are a fan of the Falcons and defense. Clayborn’s six-sack performance fell only one short of tying the NFL record of seven held by Derrick Thomas.
The win pretty much salvaged the Falcons season who improve to 5-4 remaining two games behind New Orleans while dropping Dallas to 6-3 two games behind the Eagles who have the league’s best record at 8-1.
The Falcons return to the road before starting a three-game home stand. They are headed to the Emerald City to face the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. Kickoff Monday is at 8:30pm and will be on ESPN.
– Dave Weinthal
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